We prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)

  Two teenagers leaped to their deaths from a fourteenth-floor hotel room. They left suicide notes saying they loved each other and wanted to spend eternity together. She was going into the Air Force, and since he was younger they couldn't be together. But it was a foolish and tragic choice because it didn't solve their separation.

  Some teach the doctrine of "soul-sleep," suggesting that in death a person is in an unconscious state-the soul, as well as the body, is "asleep." That is an unbiblical teaching. The Bible is clear that there is conscious existence after death. The believer does not need to fear death; in fact he prefers "rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). The implication is that immediately upon death the believer is at home in heaven with the Lord.

  The same thought is expressed in Philippians 1:23, where Paul says he has a "desire to depart and be with Christ." Departure from earth means being with Christ immediately. The Old Testament, although less specific, also teaches continued consciousness after death when the body "will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The repeated Old Testament phrase "and he was gathered to his people" (Genesis 25:8) suggests continued, conscious existence and fellowship with believers who have gone before.

  But for the unbeliever there is eternal death, continued conscious existence in eternal separation from God. Physical and eternal death are the "wages" of sin (Romans 6:23; James 1:15). For the unbeliever there is conscious suffering for eternity (Matthew 25:41); there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth," suggesting continued suffering (Matthew 8:12). The most graphic portrayal of continued existence immediately after death-and the denial of soul-sleep-is the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31).

  The body sleeps at death, but the soul and spirit continue, either in joyful bliss in heaven's glories, or, as a result of ignoring the gospel, in tragic eternal separation from the Father.

  LESSON: The soul is not unconscious after death but continues in conscious existence, either in heaven or in hell.